A Saskatchewan school division says the minister of education never inquired about its procedure regarding privacy of students when it comes to their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, after the government this week cited that procedure as an impetus for a controversial new provincial policy.
In August, the province announced a new policy requiring parental consent for a student under 16 to have their name or pronoun changed in school as it relates to their gender.
The government’s messaging on that policy and on new legislation to enshrine it, Bill 137, has focused on parental inclusion in all aspects of a child’s schooling.
But on Monday, for the first time, both Premier Scott Moe and Minister of Education Jeremy Cockrill cited a procedure change by the Regina Public School Board in 2022 as an impetus for the government’s decision. That change included a section where the school board said it would respect the privacy of students and not disclose their sexuality or gender identity without the student’s consent.
On Aug. 22 of this year, when the province’s pronoun policy was introduced, then-Education Minister Dustin Duncan said some school divisions had certain policies in place when it came to name and pronoun changes, and informing parents about sexual education lessons, and some did not.
“We certainly have heard from parents on this. Part of the changes today is to provide consistency across the school divisions,” Duncan said.
On Tuesday, Moe said the procedure released by Regina Public in June 2022 is, in part, “where this discussion began.”
“As we see a school division markedly change of policy, we are taking the advice of of Saskatchewan parents and I would say others in standardizing and making consistent policy across all 27 school divisions in the province.”
Moe said directors of school divisions have said the government policy “mirrors” what has been in place “for a number of decades now.”
During an answer in question period on Tuesday, Moe cited a quote from the director of the South East Cornerstone Public School Division Keith Keating.
“I think the major difference appears to be the policy regarding pronouns and name changes for trans youth. We have always had a default position in this school division that parents should be involved regardless of age in these discussions.”
Moe said the law will “standardize that status quo policy.”
In question period Tuesday, Opposition Leader Carla Beck said the status quo should not require an emergency legislative session.
Beck said the government did not raise the specific example of the Regina Public School Division’s policy “until very recently.”
Regina Public School Division says no complaints from parents
In a statement to CBC, spokesperson for the Regina Public School Division Terry Lazarou said the development of the division’s Administrative Procedure #353 – Students and Gender And Sexual Diversity, came after significant consultation.
Lazarou said the school division’s procedure includes sections on privacy and confidentiality, specifically stating “division staff will respect confidentiality and privacy and not disclose sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression of students unless the student has given permission or there is an impending safety concern.”
He said work on it started in 2019 with the consultation of employees, parents, students and experts.
“This Procedure asserts that students have a legal right to be safe and protected in schools and it makes reference to The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, 2018 and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This procedure is in accordance with our elected Regina Board of Education policies,” Lazarou said.
The government’s Bill 137 includes sections that override both the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code and the Charter by applying the notwithstanding clause.
Lazarou said the school division never heard from the minister about the procedure, or from parents wanting to complain about it.
“The school division has never had a complaint or criticism of how [it] promotes student safety and protection in schools from any of the families of more than 26,000 students,” he said.
“Further, we have never had an inquiry from the minister about this procedure.”
When asked why the minister had not spoken to the Regina Public School Division about its procedure, Moe said he was not sure who in the Ministry of Education had had conversations with the board.
Moe and Cockrill maintain that the policy and now legislation were driven by parental feedback and are supported by the public.
Human rights commissioner resigns, citing legislation
On Monday Heather Kuttai, one of the Saskatchewan Human Rights commissioners, resigned her position due to the province’s legislation.
“I can no longer continue. I strongly disagree with the proposed legislation that requires teachers to seek parental permission to change a child’s name and/or pronouns when they are at school. This is an attack on the rights of trans, non-binary, and gender-diverse children,” Kuttai wrote in her emailed resignation letter addressed to the premier.
“I cannot tell you the depth of my disappointment in the government I have worked for and supported for the last nine years.”
Kuttai said the move came after several long conversations with her teenage son — someone who’s transgender and had a supportive teacher to lean on while he was in school.
When asked on Tuesday about the resignation, Moe thanked Kuttai for her nine years as a commissioner and moved on to speak about the policy.
In question period Tuesday, Beck suggested the government should listen to the decision to grant an injunction by Justice Michael Megaw, the children’s advocate who called for the policy to be changed and to parents who have expressed an objection to the legislation.
Beck said the government should also listen to Kuttai and quoted her resignation letter, saying “if this proposed legislation is enacted, using the notwithstanding clause, Saskatchewan will no longer be a place that takes care of all its kids.”
Following question period, Beck said, “Scott Moe has manufactured a crisis to distract from his own failures.”
On Monday night, the bill moved to second reading, and education critic Matt Love spoke to it for more than three hours until 11 p.m. CST.
The government has increased the number of hours to debate the bill to 40 from the standard 20. That time began Monday evening.
The Opposition cannot stop the bill from being passed.